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COLUMN: EPA ignores Congressional intent on water regs

I would like to comment on the editorial board's opinion "Regulation might be costly, but so is polluted water." No one wants polluted water, but giving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more power is not the solution. The issue is much broader than that.

First, Congressional intent should be strongly considered. South Dakota Farm Bureau believes that the EPA should respect the Clean Water Act (CWA) law as passed by Congress, which allows federal regulation of navigable "Waters of the U.S." but reserves for the states the authority to regulate lesser, non-navigable waters. Unfortunately, we've experienced regulatory creep over the years as EPA has redefined what it considers waters of the U.S. and has greatly expanded its definition beyond what the law intended.

Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 agreed with Congress, reining in EPA and reminding the agency that Congress used the word "navigable" for a reason. Despite these two Supreme Court decisions, the EPA and the Corps of Engineers have gone forward with their "Waters of the U.S." proposed rule describing a plan to regulate nearly all water — even non-navigable water and temporary waters, such as roadside ditches or low areas in fields and pastures that may have a bit of water in them after a big rain. This is not what Congress intended, nor the Supreme Court. Regardless of your political affiliation and regardless of whether or not you're involved in agriculture, this should concern you.

Farm Bureau supports the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources having authority over all waters in the state. We believe that state regulators are better qualified than federal bureaucrats to identify and develop local strategies to improve water quality.

Improving water quality takes a long time, and needs continual work. Actions taken today may not be recognized for 10 or 20 years.

The adoption of no-till farming practices -- which have increased 8 percent over the past decade to now 45 percent of tilled acres in South Dakota -- containment systems for livestock feeding facilities, and other best management practices (BMPs) are indeed having a positive effect on reducing nonpoint source pollution.

Clean water is a goal we all share. But allowing the EPA to devise rules that have no basis in law is not the right approach to achieve that goal. That is why South Dakota Farm Bureau is asking farmers and ranchers -- and other citizens who are concerned about this kind of regulatory overreach -- to submit comments to the EPA on the "Waters of the U.S." proposed rule before the July 21 deadline.

Wayne Smith, of Flandreau, is the executive director of South Dakota Farm Bureau.